Skip to main content

Walmart is giving up on shelf-scanning robots in favor of humans

Walmart is giving up on shelf-scanning robots in favor of humans

/

The retail giant has ended a contract with Bossa Nova Robotics

Share this story

Walmart Holds Annual Multi-Day Shareholders Meeting In Arkansas
Photo by Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images

Retail robots that can scan shelves and update inventory have been one of the most visible faces of automation in recent years, but the success of such machines is far from guaranteed. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Walmart — one of the biggest adopters of this technology — is ending a contract that saw shelf-scanning robots appear in some 500 of its stores. The retailer found that humans could do the job just as well.

Walmart began using robots supplied by Bossa Nova Robotics in 2017, with initial deployments in 50 locations. The mobile robots would simplify routine work in stores, said the company, using machine vision to scan shelves and identify what products needed restocking. Earlier this year, Bossa Nova said it planned to expand to 1,000 Walmart stores.

Why exactly Walmart is ending the partnership is unclear, though it seems the global pandemic had an effect. The WSJ reports that as more people began shopping online, Walmart found it had “more workers walking the aisles frequently to collect online orders.” It seems that these workers could then perform the same inventory checks as the robots. Additionally, the WSJ says that Walmart’s US chief executive John Furner had worries about what customers would think seeing robots in the company’s stores.

Robots are less disruptive than a global pandemic

A spokesperson for Walmart confirmed the news to The Verge, saying: “We’ve worked with Bossa Nova for five years and together we learned a lot about how technology can assist associates, make jobs easier and provide a better customer experience. This was one idea we tried in roughly 500 stores just as we are trying other ideas in additional stores. We will continue testing new technologies and investing in our own processes and apps to best understand and track our inventory and help move products to our shelves as quickly as we can.”

According to the WSJ, the end of the contract has had a big effect on Bossa Nova, with the startup since laying off 50 percent of its staff. Sarjoun Skaff, Bossa Nova’s co-founder, told The Verge in a press statement that the company had been forced to “streamline” its operations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, but offered no comment on the contract with Walmart.

“I cannot comment on Walmart, however, the pandemic has forced us to streamline our operations and focus on our core technologies,” said Skaff. “We have made stunning advances in AI and robotics. Our retail AI is the industry’s best and works as well on robots as with fixed cameras, and our hardware, autonomy and operations excelled in more than 500 of the world’s most challenging stores. With the board’s full support, we continue deploying this technology with our partners in retail and in other fields.”

Update November 5th, 4:20AM ET: Story updated with confirmation from both Walmart and Bossa Nova.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago The tablet didn’t call that play by itself

T
Thomas RickerTwo hours ago
The Simpsons pays tribute to Chrome’s dino game.

Season 34 of The Simpsons kicked off on Sunday night with an opening credits “couch gag” based on the offline dino game from Google’s Chrome browser. Cactus, cactus, couch, d’oh! Perfect.


T
Youtube
Thomas Ricker7:29 AM UTC
Table breaks before Apple Watch Ultra’s sapphire glass.

”It’s the most rugged and capable Apple Watch yet,” said Apple at the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra (read The Verge review here). YouTuber TechRax put that claim to the test with a series of drop, scratch, and hammer tests. Takeaways: the titanium case will scratch with enough abuse, and that flat sapphire front crystal is tough — tougher than the table which cracks before the Ultra fails — but not indestructible.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix